Research – love it or hate it, it’s vital for any well-written story. If, like my critique partner Suzanne Johnson, you write urban fantasy and paranormal romance, you might find your bookshelf filled with fun titles like The Complete Guide to the Undead. I’m jealous; my shelves are filled with war diaries.
As a contemporary romance writer, I get to research by asking real people about what their lives and jobs are like. Since I’m working on a series about women who work for a humanitarian organization, and I work for such an organization myself, I’m surrounded by friendly experts.
But there are times when I think of ideas for historicals and, if I’m honest, the thought of spending months upon months sifting through old newspaper articles and history books feels a little overwhelming. Writing a novel set in a completely different world would be so much easier if we had time machines and could talk to the people who actually lived there.
So, this week my gift to you is one day in a time machine.
As writers, our imaginations are the best time machines we could ever have. And reality may never live up to what we can create ourselves. But if you could spend one day in another place and time, where would it be and why? It doesn’t have to be relevant to any book you’re working on. Is there one historical event you’d love to take part in? One future event you want to see? Perhaps you’d like to travel to a different dimension – the Beyond, or Heaven – with the guarantee that you’ll be able to come back.
I’d spend a day visiting all my ancestors who got fed up with being piss-poor laborers and starving peasants in Europe. I’d want to see what finally made them decide spending weeks on a rickety ship and starting over in an unknown land was a better option than sticking around. And I’d like to tell them that their gamble paid off, and their families’ lives improved with every generation. So much so, in fact, that I got to go to college and study English because I liked reading, not because it was practical or I needed it to survive.
How about you?
Ah, that’s interesting. There’s always a certain amount of research when writing a novel. I’ve always been fascinated by history, yet I don’t do historical novels. Don’t ask me why, I don’t mind doing research as long as the subject interests me.
Do you have a favorite time period, elleonthego? An event in world history you’d love to see firsthand?
I’m itching to do a Civil War novel based on my ggg-grandfather. He was smack-dab in the middle of Alabama and decided to support the union, outfitting his three eldest sons to enlist in the Union Army’s 1st Cavalry. All three of them died, and he filed suit with the Union for reimbursement of a horse the rampaging Yankee army took from him. I have his court testimony. My favorite line of his: “I done the union all the good I could.” I’d love to spend a day talking to him. He was one stubborn SOB, but had something goin’ one: he sired 20 children! Yeah…I have LOTS of relatives.
Brilliant story, Suz! How tragic about his sons (and kinda icky about the 17 others). I’d love to know what made him join the Union Army.
Writing historicals would scare me to death. I’m the perfect reader, however, since I know virtually nothing about the details, and will accept whatever the author writes as fact. I know I do my homework for my own books, so I trust other authors to do the same.
My mother took the family back to where she grew up (Danzig, now Gdansk) and that was a wonderful trip back in time, as she could tell us what it used to be like.
Romance with a Twist–of Mystery
I love that you were able to go back in time with your mother in real life, Terry. My husband lived near Gdansk (in Sopot) for several months just before we met. He loved it there. What an amazing experience to go with your mom to a place that’s so different and hear her stories.
We stayed in Sopot — that was where my mother vacationed every year as a child, and she’d always dreamed of going back and staying at the Grand Hotel (where they would watch the ladies have “tea dances” every afternoon.)
Romance with a Twist–of Mystery
It sounds so romantic, Terry, and a wonderful memory for you and her. My husband’s memories are more about drinking lots of beer and eating lots of fish.
Ha! I was just working on tomorrow’s blog, and I talk about not writing historicals because I don’t want to do the research!
I might actually like to go back to the sixties and see it from an adult persepective rather than the child born in ’64.
That would be really cool, Terianne. Can I jump on that time machine and travel with you?
I’m obsessed with The Tutors so seeing Anne Boleyn in action would be pretty cool.
I love your time travel idea too! I always wonder what people from that time would think of our world now.
That would be cool, Mallory. As long as you got out of there before it got bloody. Maybe you could warn her.
It would be amazing to know what people would think if they were transported to our time from hundreds of years ago. Or from hundreds of years in the future – how backward would we seem, and what would they think is the most backward aspect of our culture?
I wouldn’t mind talking to my Scottish-born great grandfather who sent sons to fight on both sides of the Civil War (talk about hedging your bets). Or my great-uncle who proudly displayed the notch on the rifle he used to track down and kill the man who murdered his brother. But mostly I’d like to rest my hand on the stones of Hadrian’s Wall and contemplate all the people who have passed by through the years. I bet their voices still echo on those rolling hills.
With such feisty ancestors, Kaki, it’s a wonder you’re so timid.
And standing at Hadrian’s Wall is surreal. Amazing that people could create something that lasts through so many generations of life.